Art and art museums’ primary requirement for functionality is light. Remove the light source or interfere with it sufficiently and you have effectively removed the building’s functionality.

Museum Tower Not a “Nuisance”? What If A Developer Changed the Grade of The Field at Cowboys Stadium?

In one of Tim Rogers excellent updates to his cover story about Museum Tower’s damaging impact on the Nasher Sculpture Center, he refers to the possible lack of viability of a “nuisance” claim by the Nasher. It occurred to me -  that as with art copyright issues brought against artists – how inarticulate and unsophisticated American law can be when it comes to litigating issues involving art, mainly because it doesn’t know how to value art in anything other than crass commercial terms or in terms of whose property is whose.

The legalese in such issues in a society that struggles with its latent philistinism leaves attorney’s offices, or courts of law, as one of the least likely places you’d expect to find impassioned, credible, and accurate conversations about art and its societal value. How does one value great art, great buildings and institutions, beyond dollar signs?

The Leonardo that the Dallas Museum of Art is ‘auditioning for’ right now, for example: is it worth $150 million, $250 million, $400 million? How can you price such an artwork? In the end, all you know is that it’s invaluable, and that its ultimate price tag is more than just an expression of “market forces” but an approximation of ‘invaluable’.  One could philosophically argue that that sole art work is more significant than any thing ever produced in Dallas, or even the sum of all of Dallas’ production.

Thus, an institution such as the Nasher is seen – in legal terms – as a neighbor with ‘sensitive’ issues – as if it’s sort of ‘highly strung,’ eccentric, or outside the norm of everyday prosaic functionalism.  In other words, that art is not central to our existence, but a sort of luxury item. Try telling that to Leonardo.

To put this in functional terms that a court of law can grasp: if some developer got under Arlington Stadium to dig an underground mall (for some weird reason), and tilted  the entire field by 25 degrees so that it sloped from right to left. There would be more than a nuisance claim because the playing field would become inoperable. Or what if Love Field’s air traffic was re-routed immediately above the Meyerson Symphony Center? Art and art museums’ primary requirement for functionality is light. Remove the light source or interfere with it sufficiently and you have effectively removed the building’s functionality. A conventional ‘nuisance’ claim here seems like inadequate terminology.

And a city without proper museums is not a city, it is just urban and suburban sprawl.

More specifically, arguing that we need to strengthen downtown’s green codes for glass reflectivity (to make them as demanding as Uptown’s requirements, as reported by Rogers), only give Museum Tower’s advocates cause to try to blame city codes. The upside down logic of this is about as convincing as blaming a rape victim for wearing a short skirt. The city didn’t make the developers build the tower, nor design it with sheer convex glass surfaces, nor unexpectedly double its height late in the day. The point is, that the design was inappropriate from the get-go, even though it is an otherwise handsome building.

The 17 percent differential between 27 percent reflectivity (uptown’s requirements) and 44 percent reflectivity (the Arts District’s) is not the point here at all. That would be like causing a sewage leak in someone else’s property and saying, “It’s not a nuisance because we’re only spilling 27 percent of our excrement into your building, excrement only becomes a nuisance at 44 percent.”

If someone craps in your bed, they’ve crapped in your bed. You don’t crap by degree. One either empties one’s bowels or one doesn’t. No one says, “This is first degree crapping with intent, your honor, but we’re prepared to plea-bargain down to accidental misdemeanor baby-pooping.”

Attorneys, populism…drag out a law suit for ten years – meanwhile, Dallas’ greatest, most optimistic and most functional cultural asset to date is f*cked up by a giant shiny piece of “luxury life-style”. How does one couch that in a court of law exactly? Is there a precise legal term as eloquent and descriptive as “to have completely f*cked something up, your honor”?

Photography via.

16 comments on “Museum Tower Not a “Nuisance”? What If A Developer Changed the Grade of The Field at Cowboys Stadium?

  1. This fine commentary boasts in excess of one analogy per 100 words — but they’re all good analogies, and they kind of inexorably build to a climactic crescendo.

    1) … as with art copyright issues brought against artists …

    2) … as if it’s sort of ‘highly strung,’ eccentric, or outside the norm …

    3) … if some developer got under Arlington Stadium to dig an underground mall …

    4) … what if Love Field’s air traffic was re-routed immediately above the Meyerson Symphony Center?

    5) … as convincing as blaming a rape victim for wearing a short skirt.

    6) … like causing a sewage leak in someone else’s property and saying, “It’s not a nuisance because we’re only spilling 27 percent of our excrement …”

    7) If someone craps in your bed, they’ve crapped in your bed. You don’t crap by degree. One either empties one’s bowels or one doesn’t. No one says, “This is first degree crapping with intent.”

  2. Sorry about that, Daniel – I’m English. It’s England’s favourite pass-time next to forming enormous flotillas – oops, I’ve done it again. Oops, I’ve done it again, again. It’s so hard not to…

    You should have seen my first draft – the analogies were all over the shop (although at least they’re all mine)…. like someone with Tourette’s after the happy gas – one more for luck…

    A selection of other peoples’ for every day use – ideas are to be shared, after all: “with just enough blue in the sky to make the Virgin’s panties” (That’s one of Stephen Fry’s, but it’s always worth quoting on a cloudy day – I think he tweaked the original which was, “…to make a pair of sailor’s trousers” – but that’s not as funny) – On the subject of manic depression: “He’s up and down like the bride’s nightie”, a song by John Shuttleworth, “…camper than a row of tents” (time-honoured classic), “You never see a nipple in the Daily Express?” – The title of a poem from John Cooper Clarke, the punk poet. I saw him recite it when I was fifteen waiting for Lou Reed to perform at the Hammersmith Odeon. Hear him here – it’s worth a listen:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/feb/29/old-music-john-cooper-clarke-daily-express

    You’re lucky I spared you the unprintable prison joke – an all-time favourite of mine – but here’s not the place. I’ll leave the concise pithy stuff to the pros.

  3. Beware of awkward analogies.
    “what if Love Field’s air traffic was re-routed immediately above the Meyerson Symphony Center?”
    It was and it is. The acoustician gave a great deal of thought to just this problem, in fact, and carefully designed the concert hall to be isolated from such unwanted sound.
    The Nasher, likewise, was designed to avoid the problem of unwanted reflection. Those responsible for the Museum Tower created the nuisance after the Nasher was built, when it was too late top do anything.

  4. If the Nasher redirected all of the reflected light from Museum Tower back to said tower, I believe you would start to get the Tower developer’s attention. A nice Anish Kapoor Cloud Gate (a.k.a. ‘The Bean’) piece might work nicely – or – not so nicely.

  5. You landed in the right place, Richard. Texans are known for their homespun analogies, as well. None come to mind at the moment besides LBJ’s famous assessment of making an uneasy alliance with a political adversary — “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

    I think Molly Ivins sustained a career APWC (analogies per word count) that exceeded yours in this short and effectively written post.

  6. I know what you mean, Daniel. But when it comes to Dallas property developers pissing in either direction, all one can say is, “Take cover!”

  7. “One could philosophically argue that that sole art work is more significant than any thing ever produced in Dallas, or even the sum of all of Dallas’ production.”

    You’re right. One could make that argument. One could also make the argument that its worth little more than the canvas it was painted on. How are you determining significance? Market value? Because someone is willing to spend $150M on a painting? Some might argue there are companies in Dallas that have produced something of far more significant value to the community than a work of art. Companies that produce jobs for people, helping them put food on their tables and a roof over their heads. Philosophically speaking, of course.

  8. “And a city without proper museums is not a city, it is just urban and suburban sprawl.”

    To quote the Coen Brothers, great artists in their own right, ‘Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.’

  9. I have a really basic question. Why on earth did the original agreement expire in 2008? Why wasn’t it indefinite? And why didn’t they renew it? Why would the potential issue be thought to disappear after 2008?

  10. Wikipedia’s first paragraph on Leonardo:

    “Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (Italian pronunciation: [leoˈnardo da ˈvintʃi] pronunciation (help·info); April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519, Old Style) was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer whose genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance Man, a man of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination”.[1] He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.[2] According to art historian Helen Gardner, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent and “his mind and personality seem to us superhuman, the man himself mysterious and remote”.[1] Marco Rosci points out, however, that while there is much speculation about Leonardo, his vision of the world is essentially logical rather than mysterious, and that the empirical methods he employed were unusual for his time.[3…”

    If somehow Leonardo had worked out time travel at the end of his life, only it took him 500 years to arrive in 2012, I’d imagine the first thing he’d do on arriving at DFW – would be to hustle his way into one of the hangers and dismantle a Boeing jet engine in his girly and unfashionably short scarlet tunic. Next, I suspect he’d stop at Park Place on Lemmon and take out the Ultimate Black XKR-S and the MacLaren for test drives. Norman Foster might do the same. I don’t know what Piano drives, so I’ll leave him out of it. He’d no doubt check out the new bridge and have a few thoughts on the Trinity’s banks.

    On arriving at the Nasher, I’d guess old beardy would spend as much time admiring the roof as pondering the significance of the art, and would then move to the garden to see what time had done to the evolution of plant life.

    The 20th Century art might be the most perplexing aspect of the Nasher for him, but I feel sure he’d come to terms with some of it quite quickly – the twisting forms of de Koonings’ bronzes I think he’d probably find had a certain rapport with his adversary Michelangelo’s darker stuff and even many of his own drawings of facial expressions – perhaps even an echo of his own unfinished painting of St. Jerome in the Wilderness.

    The Picasso’s would engage his sense of empiricism, poetry and logic. Probably a lot of the rest might leave him a bit cold. Of course it would be hard to imagine what he’d make of it. I’d guess – with the benefit of time-travel – he’d find the Jasper Johns’ downstairs too obvious and possibly not worth spending much time on the watered-down metaphysics and precursors of “conceptualism-lite”. But he’d immediately grasp the mathematics in formalism elsewhere, and probably have a bunch of lightning fast improvements for it. I think he would have admired the Tony Cragg show, if his machine had got him here in time.

    But I think he’d say – “So this is your art these days?” And he’d be intrigued to know why we thought that to be so, and would perhaps want to know more about our prescription drugs and so forth and why our brains were somewhat fuddled, and why the half-baked theologies?

    But one thing I feel sure about – I think, in a very straight-forward manner, he would have admired the Nasher’s ceiling and maybe thought, “The Pantheon could have had one of these and maybe a bigger oculus so that it could have been a little brighter inside”. I mean – the thought might very well have crossed his mind.

    Then he’d have gone to a restaurant and thought – “Good god, I’ve got to get back to the Renaissance – Dallas is hot as hell and cervice comes in six flavours of ice cream!”

    And back in his time machine, he’d have immediately set about designing special Renaissance honey-combed sunglasses based on Piano’s roof, and thought – “filtering screens for the eye and the brain!” I missed that one. So obvious. Can’t believe it took them 500 years…!” And then, looking kind of like George Clinton from Funkadelic or Sly from Sly and the Family Stone, if for nothing else, his trip to Dallas would have been worth the effort, because he’d have for sure the most happening look in 16th C Florence: massive silvery fly-eyed gauze shades, long white beard and a short red skirt.

    And Michelangelo would have looked on and said, “Ridiculous outfit, horse-modeller, that you are!”, etc, etc

  11. That was mean to read “ceviche” – the weird flavors threw out my spelling.

  12. One would think that the Dallas police and fire pension would get a great big thank you from the Nasher. Surely the attendance at the Nasher will increase greatly. The starting purchase price is what 1-1.5 million. They surely would want to go to the Nasher and look at the people walking up that pole into the sky….. Dallas P&F thanks for providing needed jobs in this time that they are so desperately needed.(damn cops and firemen) I wish the beautiful tower would become the next “Bridge homeless shelter.” I mean who are you guys trying to kid and write these great things about Dallas being a World Class City. This place will never be world class with the council it has in place and the city manager that is in place. Great job she is doing for $300,000.00 plus a year take a look into her pension and her excutive pension, yeah both of them….. Article about Dallas Police and Fire Pension in a Ft Worth news outlet a couple weeks ago was much better than the angry bit of venom you spew. Yours came off as if you do not value the job our Police and Fire do. It pisses you off that they are even paid to do a job that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do. And learn your history the Percentages were negotiated by the city to the police and fire, kinda went like this instead of a raise how about the city increases our contribution to your pension if you forego raises, Police officers and Firefighters were put in a situation that was take it or leave it back then and now like every thing else this World Class City does is to blame someone else or paint them in a light as the A**holes. And the City uses a big eyed, easily influenced writer, such as you to write some garbage like what you did. Cut your strings little puppet and look at the big picture, Dallas is about 50-60 years away from where it wants to be.

  13. “One could philosophically argue that that sole art work is more significant than any thing ever produced in Dallas, or even the sum of all of Dallas’ production.” Surely you jest. I believe beginning any thought with “[o]ne could philosophically argue” is really, well honestly and frankly, stupid. One could philosophically argue that slavery was a great plan as well, but I doubt anyone with any intellect today would concur. And philosophically arguing that a museum, which a mere mortal designed, is greater than anything Dallas has ever produced (jobs for people, familial relations, NEIMAN MARCUS!!) is a joke (I hope).
    I always enjoy other opinion and passionate, real debate; however, you have belittled many of the good arguments against the Museum Tower with your hyperbolic rhetoric. Your comments about the law and the United States legal system are insulting and poorly thought out. Glad you aren’t a judge or attorney….just a journalist (sorry your article basically annoyed me :) ).

  14. Oh, and if Museum Tower caused the grounds of the Nasher to shift 25 degrees…..that would be illegal.